3:00 am.

I am woken up in the wee hours of the morning by a terrible backache. Oh no, it must be because of that pregnancy yoga. Maybe I stretched a little too far this time.

I don’t know how to define labour pain. Some women say it is like a bolt that moves from top to bottom in your abdomen. But that is not how it is for me. All that I keep feeling is a terrible, terrible pain in my lower back and thighs that throbs and throbs and returns like spasms from time to time.

It is actually not so bad as to make me scream. But bad enough to make me hyperventilate. And a weird kind of shivering takes control of my legs every time the spasms come. I think I might just start running in circles like a mad dog.

However, my mum had defined labour pains as “someone sticking a knife in your stomach repeatedly”. (What the hell!) I don’t feel quite that way yet so I’ve been saving my screaming for then.

I’ve always wanted a normal birth. No painkillers, no epidural, and certainly not a C-section – which has become the norm in India now, with people actually asking for it. Dr Sunita was pleasantly surprised at my insistence on the natural way.

I did everything advised by my doctor (and my mom-in-law) – exercises, walks, balanced nutrition, extra prayers, and anything else anybody cared to suggest, just so I could have a normal delivery. I wasn’t scared of the labour pains; I had chosen this option. However, choosing it doesn’t mean you’re prepared for it.

8:00 am.

We’re inside the labour room at the hospital. The pains are getting terrible. Walking around helps. But then you have to be strapped down so that the baby’s heartbeat can be monitored and that increases the pains manifold. It is like an earthquake that begins in my belly and goes right down to the thighs, splitting my body in half...aaaggghhh!

My thighs shiver violently. The doctor says it is because I am so thin – gained only 5 kg during the entire nine months.

(Still not screaming, though. Feel proud.)

1:30 pm.


An adjective defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “usual or ordinary; not strange.”

What the hell?!

Who on earth came up with this bright idea of calling a vaginal birth a “normal delivery”? Will the stone-hearted brute/bird-brained idiot please stand up?

Mother Nature has indeed chosen this horrendous, ghastly, third-degree torture of a path to bring babies into this world, so I understand “natural” delivery. But even “natural” has a gentle feel to it, like something tender – which does not come remotely close to the terrifying process that childbirth is.

But normal? NORMAL, for Christ’s sake?

It makes it sound so ordinary, so commonplace. Nothing worth fretting about. Just the usual.

Talk about adding insult to injury. Literally.

It’s been more than 10 hours since the pains started. I am strapped down on the bed and writhing in agony in the middle of my most horrendous nightmare, and I can’t even wake up. I cannot make sense of anything anymore. Dr Sunita sternly orders me to let go of her collar. I look at her blankly; I don’t know what on earth she is talking about.

“Let go of my clothes,” she points out. I realise dazedly that I have her clothing in my fist and I’m violently pulling her. At which point I let her go and promptly catch hold of the nurse in exactly the same manner.

“Hold this railing,” Sunita orders me again. It’s good that she is being stern. Nothing short of that would get my attention right now.

They keep asking me if I want water, which I don’t – I just want this to be over with – so, they just keep wiping my face which is encased in sweat. So is everyone else’s in the room, since I’ve demanded that the air conditioner be turned off. The cold air was making me shiver and shake far more, and the heat, surprisingly, feels welcoming to my skinny body.

I lose track of what is happening around me, surrendering to the searing torment and the quakes reverberating in each pore, mind overcome by images moving in such a frenzy that they reduce the present moment to a blur. Amid shouts of “Push! Push! Push!” from the two doctors and several nurses in the room, there are only two things that I will forever remember about my birthing experience.

One: the man I love was by my side during this most torturous, petrifying time, holding my hand. This wouldn’t be such a novelty if not for my small-town origins, where people are astounded to know that in Delhi, one family member – any family member – forget husband (at which mention their eyes might pop out of their heads) is allowed inside the labour room during delivery. So, this is unimaginably unforgettable and unique for me.

Two: The SNAP! I heard as I jolted my head back in one piercing, agonised wail as the doctor performed an episiotomy – basically cut me open down there – so that my baby could be safely born.

Normal . . .?

You gotta be kidding me.

The Reluctant Mother

Excerpted with permission from The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants To Tell, Zehra Naqvi, Hay House.